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Government Selling You Private Data

Are repeated calls from telemarketers harassing you? Wondering how they landed up with your contact and other private details? Well, blame the government. Yes, as hard as it is to believe, the Indian Government is using your vehicle registration and driving license data to earn revenue. A bill to this effect was passed by the union cabinet earlier this year. Responding to a recent question in Parliament, Minister of Road Transport and Highways Nitin Gadkari said that the government has begun selling vehicle registration and driving license data to private companies to earn money.

A leading news channel claimed that 87 private companies and 32 government entities have so far gained access to "Vahan and Sarathi" database. Both the databases are used by RTOs across India. The system was introduced in 2011 and currently holds all the information about vehicle owners. The details on the Vahan software include registration of the vehicle, taxes, fitness, enforcement (challan), and permit. On the other hand, the Sarathi database comprises information regarding driving licenses, fees, conductor license, etc.

It is not yet known for how much the government is selling this data to each company but a total of Rs 65 crore have been accumulated from 87 private and 32 government until now. It is reported that the two databases comprise an estimated 250 million vehicle registration and 150 million driving license details.

In a written reply in upper house of Parliament, Gadkari said that "Bulk Data Sharing Policy & Procedure" allow private companies to access the data. The companies seeking access to data for 2019-2020 financial year will have to pay Rs 30 million. However, educational institutes can get the same data at a much cheaper rate -- Rs 5 lakh -- for "research purposes." The new databases have been linked to National Crime Records Bureau. This will help the police identify stolen vehicles and expedite process of recovering stolen vehicles. The Union Minister, however, refused to respond to concerns regarding privacy and safety of data.  

The companies buying this information get details under 28 fields that reveal all about the vehicle. The buyer receives registration number, address of the vehicle, financing details, insurance details, and more such important things about the car. The driving license data also reveals the picture of the individual with information like his residential address.

Coming to the use of this data, concerns remain regarding how private companies will handle this for monetary gains. Even automakers can buy data to target particular set of customers. However, it is not clear how private and government companies are using the data for their benefit.

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